Saturday, August 1, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For...

The brown algae (Pilayella Littoralis) that washes up on Lynn Beach gives off an interesting odor. I try not to breath in to deep when I pass by. Naturally, I’m not fond of the brackish, slimy stuff clinging to my skin and hair as I swim either.
You can’t blame me for wishing it would just go away.
I thought my prayers had been answered the other day when we stopped by and found the water without it’s usual brownish tint. Our praises to the powers that be was short lived. The tide was infested with Baltic Isopods. These insect-like relatives of shrimps and lobsters are plain old creepy in a bug sort of way. They don’t bite or sting, but the sharp little legs of the larger ones feel like they’re trying too.
The real kicker?
They eat brown algae.
Like the little old lady who swallowed a fly, the cure is questionable. I’d wish the little beasties away, but I’m afraid of what would take their place.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fun With Fungus.

Mushrooms are cool! They just popped out at us as we walked through the woods the other day with their glowing colors and unearthly shapes. O.K., the Indian Pipe to the right (click on it to enlarge) isn't a mushroom, but it does need a fungus in the soil to survive and it has an under-world, ghostly glow about it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rabbits and Religion.

This weekend was one of pleasant surprises. Friday, just before twilight, families from the Congregation Shirat Hayam gathered at the park next to my son’s school. Part temple ritual, part picnic, the Kabbalat Shabbat resonates a calm certainty in the power of faith and family. From the park’s gazebo I could indulge in the cantor’s psalms and watch the silvery waves that stretch out between the sea wall and Nahant. Both echoed a promise and a prayer.
With so many churches focusing on bricks and mortar and the PA systems and decor that fill them, it was good to see people practicing their ideals with nothing more that a cloudy sky over-head and grass under their feet. It sort of reminds me of the Whos from Dr. Suess’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. They also needed nothing more than a hand to clasp to celebrate their community and their faith.
The rabbit staring out at you (click on the image to enlarge) was another pleasant surprise. We caught up with him(or her) Sunday outside of the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. The congestion of cars and people seem to bother me more than him. It made me reflect on the skills he had to learn to survive, like not getting run over and avoiding tickets for jay-walking. I guess rabbits and religions have something in common- both survive and thrive by focusing on the why and the how, not the where.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Wild and Wet time at Willowdale!

Tired of the wet weather we’re having this summer? The occupants of Willowdale’s marshes certainly aren’t. Many are taking advantage of the surplus housing brought on by the rising waters. The marsh pops, splashes, and chirps with activity. The waters creep over the edges of the street, reclaiming territory that man stole years before. It’s fun to spy on the frogs as they bask among the water lilies and tag along as water snakes patrol the shallow reaches of the marsh stalking topaz-blue dragonflies. I’m rather fond of the dragonflies though. I like to think I can thank them for the lack of mosquitoes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

One monster blackberry, some sunshine and a berry delicious July 4th holiday weekend!

To find fresh, delicious fruit, why not head to a pick-your-own farm? O.K., it wasn’t my idea, it was my son’s. He wanted to travel to Russell’s Orchard in Ipswich to party this past holiday weekend. Cheap, fun and scenic- it’s like a mini vacation, and what better way to spend time with family? We stopped in at the barn to fortify ourselves with an oatmeal cookie and a cider pop before hiking out to search for the perfect berry. Our berry hunt yielded a wonderful walk through the orchard plus fresh raspberries, strawberries and one monster stone blackberry. No, we couldn't keep the blackberry.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mending Walls - Mending Ourselves.

“Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,”

Robert Frost - Mending Wall

It’s easy to agree with Frost that fences made of stone are only for walling things in or walling them out. Whether it’s to segregate the lawn from the flower beds, or keeping the world out of our private life, walls today are all about dividing and separating. But the ancient walls of New England are different. Like rainbows, they seem to have no ends, marking the boundaries of elfin realms and the long-forgotten kingdoms of Yankee farmers. Sleepy with lichen and moss, they meander through forests and behind homes with the all the mystery of Mayan ruins and crop circles.

At a hundred years of age, the wall that separates my son’s school from the park is fairly young. It’s unfortunately, as Frost pointed out-

“Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.”

Yes, many stones had escaped the grip of their brethren and have tumbled onto the grass, but you can’t repair a wall of this age. You repair cars. You repair bad credit. Old walls, like broken hearts and home spun clothes, are mended. The stone masons pick carefully from the stones strewn out under the maple trees. They fit them together, bits of jagged edged puzzle pieces, held in place with cement. When they are done, the stones will once again be used as a bench, a spot to bounce a ball, a balance beam, a home for mice and moss.

This is the irony of old walls. They bring people together rather than separate them. We don’t mend them because we need to divide land. We do it because the wall is a connection to our pasts and to our community. Frost didn’t realize that his wall was making him a good neighbor. After all, if it weren’t for the wall, he and his neighbor wouldn’t have spent any time together working on a common goal.
The walls that sleep in our woods no longer mark property lines, but they are part of our common heritage and history. A legacy that we all can share.

Interested in stonewall preservation? Go to-

Also, checkout Matthew Wheelock’s Wall, an excellent illustrated children’s book by Frances Ward Weller and illustrated by Ted Lewin (the above picture is from it).

Monday, June 29, 2009

The tide was in a mischievious mood. Two fishermen were caught out on Red Rock and hundreds of jellies washed ashore along lynn-Nahant beach today. No brown algea though. I wonder what brought them this way? Oh, the fishermen? They declined any help from the fire dept. and chose to wait the tide out. Maybe the fishing is better at hightide? A ring-bill gull with a different fashion sense was also loitering around. He was tagged by the DRC at Wachusett Reservoir. For more about the program, go to

Friday, June 26, 2009

Curious George - The True Story

Is it only me who finds the classic children’s book series, Curious George, disturbing?
Those familiar with the PBS TV show, or the publisher written books they’re based on, may not be familiar with the way George and the nameless man-in-the-yellow-hat meet in Margret and H.A. Rey’s 1941 version. In the original story, George the monkey is a happy little primate living a care-free life in a tropical jungle paradise. The Man in the Yellow Hat appears to make a living by capturing wild animals and selling them to zoos. Before you can say ‘King Kong’, George is netted, boxed, and shipped off to the big city. George does manage to escape from his zoo cage and track down the Man With the Yellow Hat. Yellow Hat makes the fateful decision to let the furry little mischief maker live with him. George quickly adjusts to the concrete jungle he now calls home and spends the rest of the series with his yellow-hatted, adoptive father - giving testimony to the resilience of primates and a text book case of Stockholm Syndrome.
For his part, Yellow Hat does seem to look upon George as a son, not a pet. But his parenting skills are so poor it’s a wonder that both the SPCA and Social Services across the nation haven’t put these books on their banned list. Each story has Yellow Hat leaving George, an over-active monkey with the brain of a five-year old, in places where he couldn’t help but get into trouble. Yellow Hat even seems to goad the simian on by always telling him ‘not to be too curious’ before leaving him alone in chocolate factories, libraries, ice cream and pizza shops, hospitals, and yes, even a zoo. He then acts surprised to find that George has managed to get into trouble. This guy is the prototype for ever clueless father that now over-populates kids TV shows and movies.
Another word of warning- These tales are not for germ-a-phobics. I can’t tell you how many stories involve George man-handling (and man-footing) food meant for retail sales. Apparently there’s no Board of Public Health in the city were George resides.
I’m probably being to harsh. Once you get past the animal exploitation, the reckless parenting techniques, and the health code violations, these really aren’t bad books at all. Just don’t read them before ordering a pizza.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Seasonal Friends.

The Brants and the Buffleheads are gone. I haven’t seen any Ring-Billed Gulls or Black Ducks in a while either. The only other formally dressed regular on the beach is a Great Black-Winged Gull, holding court amidst the young Herring Gulls. The spot under the sea wall were the ducks and gulls had spent the winter isn’t quite empty though. A pair of Black Guillemots, The white splashes on their wings bright on their black plumes, has toured further south than usual. Maybe it’s the unseasonably cool weather. They look content enough passing the time on the waves. Closer to the surf, another uncommon pair seems less sure of were they are. The Gadwalls keep a wary eye on me, unsure if I’m an object best to be feared or ignored.
The Swallows that arrived this week are more brazen. Flying with stunt pilot precision, they zoom by, hugging the ground and walls, taunting the children to try and catch them. They do manage to startle the bright yellow flowers that rise above the wild roses. As the blooms hop and flutter to new stalks, I realize, with embarrassment and delight, that they’re really a flock of Goldfinches.
There are no hellos or goodbyes for these sojourners. For them, migration seems no more dramatic than running to the store for some milk. They don’t doubt they’ll be back. They don’t doubt we’ll be here to be surprised by their return.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Artistic Side of Seaweed

Being at the seashore sometimes feels like a personal invite to an art gallery opening. There’s so much to see, and the scenes, both macro and micro, are always changing. Even seaweed and sand have color and flow that bestow on them beauty and personality.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I've got a new candy crush!

I'm always on the look-out for new antidotes for my chocolate cravings, especially ones that keep me from diving face first into a bag of Guittard couverture wafers.
My latest cocoa paramour is a bar of Chocolate Santander's 53% semi-dark. It's got a solid chocolate head-rush with a faint sensation of mint. Even a small 1/2 ounce dose has me satisfied. Being the fickle Chocolate tramp that I am though, I might try a darker version next time I decide to treat myself. It's surprising how dark you can go with some brands before reaching the bitter-as-bad-coffee-beans stage. I wonder what their 70% cacao will taste like?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Foxes, Flowers and the Will to Live.

I’m sort of a sucker for a good underdog story. It’s hard to pass up a gritty tale of determination and tenacity, especially if the hero survives against overwhelming adversity and defies the odds without losing their sense of identity. I chanced upon two such heroes this week.
The first was on Marblehead Neck, a 320 acre island of affluent suburbia that’s connected to the main land by a quarter mile of road built upon a sand bar. My wife spotted him first as he skulked between a hedge row and a house. A fox. He looked like he was jogging on eggshells, wary of being seen, painfully aware of how much his reddish coat stood out from the green of grass, bushes and trees.
He’s often seen in tales of old playing either a prince without a throne or a trickster. I suspect he has to be a little of both to melt into the background of an island populated by over-indulged homes, carefully coiffured yards, and a couple of yacht clubs. He can only travel a block or two before coming to a road. Here his unnatural enemies- cars, contractor’s vans, and landscaper’s trucks, roam. Even more dangerous is the homeowner, fearful of all untamed mammals, who calls the animal control officer. How do creatures accustom to forests and woodlands manage to make a life in such an alien world?
That question was still on my mind during our next walk. My wife and I were strolling along the paved trails of a state forest. Twice the size of Marblehead Neck, the reservation is encapsulated in suburban sprawl, the entrance only a half mile from a highway lined with shopping plazas.
I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a fox here. But a different kind of survivor was waiting by the roadside. As silent and solitary as the fox, the lady slipper doesn’t seem bothered by it’s showy, pink bloom. These lonely beauties can live for a hundred years. That’s a good thing, because they’re rather fussy about the moisture content of the soil. And they won’t grow at all if the ground isn’t infested with a particular type of fungus. Add to that a low pollination rate, a lengthy germination period, and a preference for vegetative growth. It’s no wonder they’re considered a rare orchid that’s illegal to pick or transplant in many states.
So how do foxes and fungus needy flora survive in an alien land? They’re seen as interlopers- either dangerous or superficial. How many people notice they’re here? Who would miss them if they should disappear? Their existence proofs one thing- Life doesn’t care. Creatures, great and small, will use their strengths, the greatest one being the instinct to adapt and evolve.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pop Quiz- When does brain damage stop being fun?

Got ya thinkin’ caps on? Which of these;

a. Frontal lobotomy,
b. Smoking marijuana,
c. Alzheimer's disease,

Have these symptoms:

  • Loss of memory
  • Impaired judgment
  • Abstract thinking difficulties
  • Mood or behavioral problems
  • Personality changes
  • Paranoia
  • Loss of drive and initiative

If you answered a, b, or c, your correct! I came across this while flipping through magazines in an emergency room waiting area. There were three separate articles- one on a new, experimental lobotomy procedure, one on the effects of marijuana use, and one one the latest research concerning Alzheimer’s. Each article had a list of symptoms. Each list was the same. Thinking about it, I shouldn’t have been surprised. A frontal lobotomy manually destroys brain cells. Marijuana clogs up brain cell receptors. Alzheimer’s is caused by amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles gunking-up brain cells. Each, in its own way, prevents brain cells from functioning.

The symptoms have to be pretty severe before anyone takes them seriously. Mild Alzheimer’s is seen as just a part of growing old. Marijuana is considered (at least by those who smoke it) as a harmless recreation. The befuddled old-foggy and the clueless stoner are still fodder for laughs in TV shows and movies. Society accepts the mild deterioration of the mind as a natural, common-place thing. Only when the problems are magnified, as with a lobotomy or severe, advanced staged Alzheimer’s, does the tragic implications become obvious.
But at what point does that happen? Where do we draw the line? How bad does a person’s behavior have to be before it stops being seen as harmless? When does brain damage stop being fun?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Begrudging the Grudge - How not to let the joys of resentment ruin a relationship.

A snide little aside sandwiched between two hearty slabs of cold shoulder, the grudge withholds meaningful communication as a punishment. Feeling offended, we either talk about it to everyone but the person who offended us, or worse, the only person we talk to is ourselves, reliving the offence over and over in our mind. Each time we get to pick at the wound, constantly reminding ourselves how we got it. Eventually, the idea of healing it instead of preserving it frightens us. It becomes part of who we are and how we define our relationship with the grudgee. As comfortable as wallowing in indignation can be, I don’t believe that deep down it’s who we want to be.
Retreating from the fight can be the only way to win the battle though. But how will that make us look? What if it comes across like we’re admitting defeat? What if it makes the other person look like they’re right? What will it say about us? It doesn’t say your giving in, giving up, or even forgive. It means you see the importance of resolving your differences- that you’re willing to listen and you expect to be heard as well.
Of course there will always be people better at holding a grudge than you. It may take a long time before they’ll talk to you. They may never talk to you. You lose nothing though by letting them know that you’re always willing to listen. You will not look weak, only patient. You will not seem as desperate as you will diplomatic. You are not saying that you approve of what they’ve done, but you are willing to agree to disagree. All it takes is the slightest gesture to get the ball rolling. This is true whether it’s a text-message to a friend or a president shaking hands with a political spoil-sport. Good intentions pave the road to Hell. Good communication pave the way to redemption.

Monday, April 27, 2009

WARNING! - Shameful plug for a website - WARNING!

This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but good jobs are scarce and the competition for those jobs is fierce. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on this after being laid-off from my job of 27 years. One frustration, besides trying to meditate by chanting Malcom Forbes quotes, has been looking for job listings on the internet. Google ‘job listings’ and dozens of sites scroll by. Many of these sites lacked the search features I’d like to of seen. Some were just a way of bashing me with advertisements. Others buried me in hundreds of job entries that were ever way out side of my search criteria or were simply the same handful of jobs repeated over and over. Many used someone else's list (Monster, Yahoo, and Indeed seem popular).
I took such annoyances as a personal challenge. Being stubborn about such things, I spent a week perusing job search sites for ones that I found useful. I never found the Holy Grail of job sites, i.e. one that produced all the job entries that I’d be interested in without making me feel like I was walking through waist-deep water to find them. I did have a list of some sites that were better than others though.
I’d seen enough people at the unemployment office- lost souls sitting in front of the Career Center’s computers with a deer-in-the-headlights stare- to think that maybe others would be interested in my list. The Job Jackrabbit is my attempt to make looking for a job easier. It’s for people who want a clean, slightly uncluttered web page containing links to efficient, easy to use job-search sites. It’s meant as a tool. There’s really no content. If you’re interested in information about joblessness or Job searching I’d suggest either or the Department of Labor’s site.
Now all I have to do is find a positive spin for my lack of education and job skills. Then, new career, here I come!